A Letter from Morehouse SafeSpace President Marcus Lee UPDATED

by Marcus Lee

Thank you for writing this poignant blog about your experience. I’m the President of Morehouse SafeSpace—Morehouse’s Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversities—and these issues are ones we grapple with frequently.

Our situation is a complex and peculiar one. I’m proud to say that many of us (students & alum) have committed to loving ourselves/each other regardless of—and in some instances because of—our differences. Moreover, there are many faculty and staff members—including the President of the college, the Office of Student Life, several professors, etc.—that embrace us. However, Morehouse’s curricula, institutional policies and procedures do not reflect this embrace. There are no Black queer studies courses, gender and sexual orientation are absent from our employment nondiscrimination policy, we have a dress code that outlaws wearing ‘female attire,’ we have an inactive diversity committee, and the list continues. So, I don’t think the football team’s reactions are inherent to them specifically. Instead, they are a product of a grooming process—that begins in the world, and is buttressed or goes uninterrupted at Morehouse—that’s checkered with heteronormativity and silence; inclusive spaces are forged here in spite of, not because of, the culture of the college.

To be sure, Morehouse will respond to this issue—many of us (students and alum) have reached out to the President and the VP of Student Affairs and they’ve responded with disappointment and noted that the football team will be engaging in dialogue about this soon. And, when asked about an institutional commitment to diversity, the VP noted that it’s also coming soon.

I hope this is true. Issues like these cannot and should not be dealt with discreetly. This is a systemic issue that permeates campus no matter how friendly and encouraging a few administrative folks are toward us. In short, I implore anyone who is concerned to ask, not what will happen with the football team particularly, but what will be installed to permanently mitigate homophobia on campus. That’s the key.

Thanks again,

Marcus Lee


So many folks have reached out about the “Dear White People” blog and I’m so thankful for your support. I haven’t been able to offer detailed responses to folks asking about our needs because I’m still a student with A LOT of work to do, applications to complete, etc. But, I wanted to write a short post advising folks on what support for us looks like in this moment.

Things that don’t help:

– [Erroneously] saying that Morehouse is a school full of girls (which is somehow supposed to elucidate the irony of the situation; but, in reality only implies that there is something wrong with being a “girl” [gay] and reinforces homophobia.)

– Opportunistically reaching out to us to be flown down for a panel, a meeting, etc. without actually having any real concern about or knowledge of Morehouse’s history with diversity–i.e. our setbacks and triumphs.

– Castigating the actions of the football team without asking questions about what Morehouse is or is not doing institutionally to interrupt homophobia [thereby, allowing for the possibility that the football team may be used as a scapegoat to avoid dealing with institutional issues].

– Suggesting that homophobia among those men–some of whom are my friends–was inevitable [thereby, perpetuating the myth of Black “super-homophobia” (as opposed to white “gentle-homophobia”?)]

Things that do help:

– Reaching out to the Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities and asking her how many of the several open positions in the social science departments will be filled by scholars who study sexuality and gender–more specifically, scholars who label their work “Black/Queer/Feminist” [be sure that the word “Black” is included somewhere in that label.]

– Reach out to the President of the college and the VP of Student Affairs to ask which campus-wide programs are happening in order to mitigate homophobia.

– Ask the VP who is on the Diversity Committee, how often they meet, and what they have done for the campus

– Reach out to the Provost of the college to ask which part of the general education curriculum includes a necessary, thoroughgoing engagement with Black/Queer/Feminist work. Then, ask which texts are being read.

– Ask when the LGBT diversity competence training happens on campus and how many faculty and staff members show up.

– Reach out to General Counsel and ask how long it will take for gender identity and sexual orientation to be added to the employment non discrimination policy and the student non-discrimination policy.

– Reach out to the President and ask that the “Appropriate Attire Policy” be abolished.

– And the list continues.

I hope this helps!

A Letter from Morehouse SafeSpace President Marcus Lee UPDATED

How the Morehouse Football Team ruined Dear White People and proved its point

dear white people

Response from Morehouse SafeSpace president here.

As a filmmaker, intersectional scholar, and a huge fan and supporter of the original trailer and campaign for “Dear White People,” I was ecstatic to be able to go see the film here in Columbia, SC.  The film itself didn’t disappoint.  Clearly influenced by Wes Anderson in cinematography, but wholly unique in tone, it was a brilliantly funny, biting, and moving film.  The acting, the directing, the cinematography were all superb, even before you take into account the origin story and budget of the film.  The experience of seeing the film, however, was incredibly unpleasant.  Spoilers ahead.

Just as the trailers were ending and the movie starting, a hundred people started pouring into the theater.  This was the Morehouse College Football Team, here in Columbia to play Benedict College tomorrow.  Morehouse is an all-male historically black college in Atlanta not too far from my own undergraduate institution of Emory.  It is the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As the movie started, I was excited that this many people were in the theater to see the movie.  It was a short-lived excitement.

There are three main plots in “Dear White People,” and one of them focuses on a black gay kid named Lionel, played by “Everybody Hates Chris” star Tyler James Williams, who doesn’t fit in with any group — not with gay kids, not with white kids, and not with black kids, who have historically treated him with homophobia and cruelty.  His story is about the toxic effect of homophobia in the black community.  In addition to the heterosexual romances involving all the other characters, there is also a budding romance between Lionel and another man.  The initial hints at this romance did not win the Morehouse College Football Team’s approval.  They started saying homophobic things every time Lionel was onscreen.  When Lionel had a same-sex kiss, the team went into a frenzy — everyone turned on their phones and said they weren’t looking, they started yelling, “What kind of movie is this?”  Several of them walked out, others started yelling at anyone on their team for looking at the screen when the kiss happened, “Man, you looked at that, I saw you!”  “What is this gay shit?”  “Some of y’all didn’t turn your heads away!”

It was nauseating.  But it got worse.

Lionel has a major heroic moment toward the end of the film in which he breaks up a racist party being held by an entitled white jerk, who is, more or less, the antagonist of the film, and who verbally and sexually harassed Lionel over his sexuality throughout the film.  The racist white guy tackles Lionel and pins him down.  In retaliation, Lionel kisses him (this freaked out the audience again), but the racist white guy responds by punching Lionel repeatedly in the face.

They cheered.  This room full of black men who attend Dr. King’s alma mater.  They cheered for the racist white guy because the black man he was being allowed to beat without repercussion was a faggot.

When the beating stopped, the Morehouse player behind me said that the white guy should have kept hitting him because that’s what he got for being gay.

I want you to imagine yourself in a dark room with a hundred physically fit men rooting for a hate crime to be perpetrated against a gay man.  It was terrifying.  It was horrifying.  It was depressing.  Can you imagine what a kid on that team who was gay would have felt?

When the film was over, it was all the men of Morehouse could talk about.  Who hadn’t closed their eyes and looked away when there was gay kissing?  One player said of Tyler James Williams, “Man, I must’ve watched every episode of ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ back in the day.  Can’t believe he’d go out like that.  Shit kills me.”

I don’t know if Morehouse College offers LGBT sensitivity training, but it should have someone come speak to the football team.  Even if you don’t approve of homosexuality, to come to a city as a football team, representing your college and your hometown, and to spit hate and vitriol in a room that includes other people, including LGBT people — it is not OK.  What kind of school sends out ambassadors of hate?  Can it be the same one that sent out Dr. King?  Hewing to the stereotype of black homophobia makes Morehouse and the black community weaker, and there are real victims.  Lionel may be fictional, but his treatment was not.  It’s a shame that “Dear White People”‘s message of acceptance didn’t reach everyone in the room.

EDITED TO ADD: Raynard Ware, a member of the Morehouse Football Team who was there last night offered this comment below, and I thought I should highlight it:

As a student and football player for the Maroon Tigers, I was disturb by the reaction of my teammates during certain scenes of the movie. The remarks and outbursts were upright embarrassing and prejudice. I am big on reputation and presentation. However, this is not a true reputation of our institution. We are sincerely apologetic that the loud embarrassing remarks were heard and not the intellectual discussion, which we also engaged in after the movie. Sorry to give off such a poor perception to the public eye, we ARE apologetic.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, some of my teammates needed to know the perception they give to people.

How the Morehouse Football Team ruined Dear White People and proved its point